As the public anxiously awaits the U.S. State Department’s final decision on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, the discussion has largely ignored the elephant in the room: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
Thanks to NAFTA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1994, the State Department will likely be able to do little more than stall the pipeline’s construction. In its simplest form, NAFTA removes barriers for North American countries wishing to do business in or through other North American countries, including environmental barriers. The goal of the agreement was to promote intra-continental commerce and help the economies of all involved in the agreement.
Before diving into NAFTA, it's important to take a look at what the State Department and the media have done so far in regards to Keystone XL. Before she left office and was replaced by John Kerry, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s ties to the project were almost too many to count. Most notable was the fact that many of her former staffers and associates were lobbyists for Keystone XL, and they had a direct line into both Clinton and President Obama.
It is likely a result of these connections that the State Department’s environmental assessments were strikingly flawed and inadequate. As the Natural Resources Defense Council pointed out, many of the so-called “standards” that the State Department put in place regarding the pipeline were simple “smoke and mirror” schemes to distract the public, and they failed to do their due diligence by considering alternative paths for the pipeline. Furthermore, climate impacts from operation and construction were almost completely ignored.
Compounding the problem of the State Department’s willingness to sign off on their own flawed environmental studies was the fact that the mainstream media was more than willing to host Keystone XL proponents to tout the many “benefits” that America would experience by constructing the pipeline.
Chief among those alleged “benefits” was the talking point regarding job creation. The media, as well as the public, bought into the industry’s talking points that 20,000 jobs would be created through construction of the pipeline. TransCanada eventually downgraded that number to 6,000 permanent jobs, but the media hardly paid attention. More recently, the fact that the pipeline would create only 35 permanent jobs in America was met by complete silence from the mainstream media, leaving the public woefully ignorant about the true “benefits” of the pipeline.
The other major talking point used to sell the pipeline was that it would reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, and reduce oil prices for Americans. This talking point, while widely accepted again by both the media and the public, was completely at odds with reality. The reason TransCanada wants a pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast is so that the oil can be refined and immediately loaded onto tankers to sell in overseas markets. This tar sands oil would not be staying in America, and therefore would not reduce our depedence on foreign oil.
Furthermore, the fact that the oil would be sold overseas means that prices in America would actually rise, rather than fall, by as much as 12 cents per gallon.
All of this misinformation helped convince the public that the pipeline is a great idea, as no major media outlets bothered to follow up and report the facts. Recent polls show that the majority of Americans, including majorities of Republicans and Independent voters, favor construction of the pipeline.
With all of these factors working in TransCanada’s favor, an approval from the State Department would seem to be an absolute certainty.
But if the State Department chooses to acknowledge the facts and prohibit the pipeline’s construction, TransCanada still has a fairly simply route to get it approved, and that’s where NAFTA comes into play.
When it comes to the energy sector, NAFTA has a lot to say, and most of it isn’t good. At the heart of it, NAFTA mandates that member countries cannot discriminate against foreign energy companies.
This means that a Canadian energy company is legally allowed the same opportunities as American companies operating in the U.S. Since we’ve allowed our oil companies to construct pipelines, it would be illegal, in most circumstances, to deny that same privilege to TransCanada.
Furthermore, NAFTA significantly weakens the host government’s ability to restrict a project, even if that project would violate the government’s own regulations and standards. For example, Exxon has been successful in bringing NAFTA challenges to drilling projects that the Canadian government had denied the oil giant.
However, just as NAFTA could be used as the means by which Keystone XL is approved, it could just as easily be the tool by which it is stopped.
The glimmer of hope comes from a provision in NAFTA that created the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). The CEC is tasked with ensuring that environmental concerns are thoroughly examined when dealing with NAFTA. It lays out environmental issues as they would apply to the entire continent, not just the host government’s concerns. These broad terms could easily help make Keystone XL a distant memory, as the environmental consequences of a spill could span the continent. Specifically, a leak in the portion of the pipe that would still pass over the Ogallala aquifer could poison as much as 25% of America’s crops, which are exported throughout North America.
While environmental challenges to NAFTA projects have a poor success rate, it still gives hope that the project will be denied.
Given the volatility of the issue, it wouldn’t be surprising if the President and State Department left the decision up to a NAFTA panel, rather than stepping up and doing the right thing for North America.
Visit EcoWatch’s KEYSTONE XL page for more related news on this topic.
- Thom Yorke of Radiohead Releases Song With Greenpeace to Help ... ›
- Patti Smith, Thom Yorke, Flea and More Featured on Just Released ... ›
- Musicians and Activists Unite at 'Pathway to Paris' - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A national park in Thailand has come up with an innovative way to make sure guests clean up their own trash: mail it back to them.
- Supermarkets in Thailand and Vietnam Swap Plastic Packaging for ... ›
- Malaysia Sends Plastic Waste Back to 13 Wealthy Countries, Says It ... ›
- Thailand Begins the New Year With Plastic Bag Ban - EcoWatch ›
- Coronavirus Worsens Thailand's Plastic Waste Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- Marium, Thailand's Beloved Baby Dugong, Is the Latest Victim of ... ›
By Ilana Cohen
Four years ago, Jacob Abel cast his first presidential vote for Donald Trump. As a young conservative from Concord, North Carolina, the choice felt natural.
But this November, he plans to cast a "protest vote" for a write-in candidate or abstain from casting a ballot for president. A determining factor in his 180-degree turn? Climate change.
Fractures Among Young Climate Conservatives<p>While young conservatives have united around the urgency of climate change, they remain divided over how to bring their concerns to the ballot box. Some embrace right-wing <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-attacks-republican-convention/2020/08/24/434e5b46-e66d-11ea-970a-64c73a1c2392_story.html" target="_blank">attacks</a> painting Biden as a "tool of the left" and find his climate agenda "radical." Others can't find a way to justify voting for Trump, even if it means breaking with their party.</p><p>Patrick Mann from Orange County, California, voted for Trump in 2016. But today, he's leading Aggies for Joe at Texas A&M University and is co-founder of Texas Students for Biden. </p><p>Mann grew up watching wildfires ravage his home state, nearly forcing his family to evacuate in 2017. The GOP is failing to "meet the moment" for climate action, Mann said. He's hoping Biden will deliver on a promise to "<a href="https://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/caucus/2020/01/06/joe-biden-democrat-president-iowa-caucus-restore-soul-our-nation/2806422001/" target="_blank">restore the soul of our nation</a>." </p><p>Taylor Walker from Pensacola, Florida, is also determined to make her voice heard on climate, including by casting her first-ever vote for president—but not for Biden.</p>
A False Equivalency<p>Young climate conservatives may fear climate denial and delayed climate action, but more than that, they fear the growing political momentum around the Green New Deal, the massive spending it entails and <a href="https://joebiden.com/climate-plan/" target="_blank">Biden's citing of it</a> as a "crucial framing for meeting the climate challenges we face."</p><p>Many don't want to split with their party to support a Democrat whose <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/09/03/757220130/joe-biden-on-bipartisanship-gun-control-and-regrets-over-inaction-after-a-traged" target="_blank">allegedly bipartisan intentions</a> they doubt. If stymieing what they consider a radical green agenda means re-electing a climate change denying president, so be it. </p><p>"I'm scared of climate change, but I'm also scared of the Green New Deal and what it means for America," said Ben Mutolo, a republicEN spokesperson and junior at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. </p><p>Mutolo felt encouraged by former Ohio Governor John Kasich's <a href="https://www.rollcall.com/2020/08/17/kasich-speech-to-democratic-convention-follows-years-of-building-conservative-credentials/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">appearance</a> at the Democratic National Convention, but he still struggles to see himself voting for Biden. Though the candidate paints himself as a <a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-08-12/harris-biden-different-generation-similar-political-instinct" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">centrist,</a> Mutolo believes he's "cozying up to the ultra-progressive left." </p><p>Mutolo, who wants to see market-based climate solutions like a carbon tax, feels torn between a candidate whose climate plan relies on taking an "<a href="https://joebiden.com/environmental-justice-plan/#" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">All-of-Government approach</a>," and one with no efforts to reign in global warming at all. <span></span></p><p>Leiserowitz said he appreciated how a conservative might feel Biden's climate plan "doesn't jive with their limited government, free-market approach."</p><p>But he sees a strong distinction between voting for a presidential candidate with a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/14/us/politics/biden-climate-plan.html" target="_blank">$2 trillion climate plan</a> that includes large renewable energy investments, which have <a href="https://climatecommunication.yale.edu/publications/politics-global-warming-april-2020/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">bipartisan support</a>, and a candidate trying "to take the country in the opposite direction, towards more fossil fuels."</p>
- 7 Republicans Joined Senate Democrats in Vote to Fight Climate ... ›
- Climate Change Acknowledged by Increasing Number of ... ›
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Monday that 64 high-income nations have joined an effort to distribute a COVID-19 vaccine fairly, prioritizing the most vulnerable citizens, as Science reported. The program is called the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, or Covax, and it is a joint effort led by the WHO, the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.
- Trump Denies CDC Director's 2021 Timeline for Coronavirus Vaccine ›
- CDC Tells States to Prepare for a Vaccine Before November Election ›
- Fauci Warns Pre-Pandemic Normalcy Not Likely Until Late 2021 ... ›
By Gloria Oladipo
In the face of dangerous heat waves this summer, Americans have taken shelter in air conditioned cooling centers. Normally, that would be a wise choice, but during a pandemic, indoor shelters present new risks. The same air conditioning systems that keep us cool recirculate air around us, potentially spreading the coronavirus.